Rob Zacny

Episode 326: State of the RTS

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As an aside, I tried Grey Goo over the weekend. I didn't have very long to give it to grab me ( a couple of missions), and it utterly failed. Primary issue- none of the units it gave me did anything interesting. Infantry shooting yellow streaks. Small walker thing shooting yellow streaks. Bigger walker thing shooting yellow streaks. Some vanilla artillery and anti-air. Enemy units seemed to do much the same, but I couldn't get much of a clue as to their identity from their appearance, so I just A-moved at them. The other units that I might build seemed equally vanilla.

 

I'm spoiled by Relic RTSs, where every unit brims over with identity, personality, and above all possibility. Heck, even the original Command and Conquer had the grenadier guys and cool stealth tanks.  If you're going to give me a toy box full of boring toys I don't really want to play.

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I think that the points made about wanting to play RTS matches with friends is really important. ...  I really enjoy RTS campaigns but I am just not that into playing with randos who can crush me in 3 minutes.

 

I'm in that boat as well.  Think there really is something to the LAN'ness coallescing a group around these games.  Now that I think about it, anyone I knew from back in the day has dropped RTSs and either gone full Lords/esport or moved over to board gaming.  For me, the board games provide the same group tension, competition, and faffing about with units and builds without the RSI. 

 

And maybe its just old-man-shouts-at-clouds, but I have a hard time even comparing pre-always-on Internet tech RTSs to the current itterations.  Yes, Dr Geryk's 2001(!!) "harvest, build, destroy" definition still holds.... but man, go look at a screenshot of Dune II!  I have heavier cognitive load "casual" games on my iPhone.  Not even sure StarCraft is much heavier than Dune, we all just refined our play of it for a decade.

 

Glancing back thru chronologies, there's this crazy leap around 2005-6 for RTS ux/meta.  Stacked on the rise of the gaming PCs maybe? It's like the jump flight and racing games took in the 90's kicking off all the filthy casuals.  That mention of SC1 still having higher rates than SC2 sure sounds like a complexity wall.

 

 

 

p.s. Holy 2000's nostalgia! Someone tell me Homeworld:Shipbreaker isn't a mirage. 

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I'm amazed no-one mentioned AI War. (Mr Hermes!!)

 

Some of the smaller indie RTS'es are worth a look-see.

 

Nightside

http://nightsiderts.com/

 

Etherium

http://etherium-thegame.com/

 

War, The Game

http://warthegame.net/

 

SunAge

http://www.vertex4.com/sunage/

 

Meridian: New World

http://meridian-game.com/

 

Machines at War

http://www.isotope244.com/machines-at-war-3.html

 

A historical series that I half expected Troy to mention was the Hegemony series by Longbow games.

https://www.longbowgames.com/

 

Not sure whether the likes of Scourge of War, Gettysburg and Waterloo count as historical RTS'es.

 

All the chat about Kohan, my favourite RTS series, had me wondering whether the likes of PantherGames series Command Ops was worth a mention here. Specifically because Rob said he'd like to see more RTS'es work on the macro-management scale.

 

Command Ops 2 (the core engine is free!)

 

http://store.lnlpublishing.com/command-ops-2-core-engine

 

http://store.lnlpublishing.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=91

 

Command Ops takes a traditional chit type wargame, but in pauseable real-time with very detailed maps. It also allows you to construct/re-organise multi-type units, with leaders and plan their actions along a timeline to a quite high level of detail. Then once you have your formations how you want them, and with their orders the sub-ordinate AI leaders will execute your orders in real time. They may not do so exactly, or to your schedule, but your role as the Commander on the battlefield is to tweak and change your execution plan and react to situations developing. The AI is really good, and can be relied on to handle your orders. So you work at a higher strategic level, but can pause the game and plan down to timings of certain movements.

 

This game (and its earlier incarnations) have always struck me as ideal for RTS players who want more control of the higher level unit formations, and the broader strokes on the battlefield - a bit like Kohan did. Factoring in Supplies and reinforcements etc. The game also has a number of victory locations, that need to be taken/defended by a given time frame to earn the points, which puts a whole level of organisational timing into the mix. The game is built with historical WWII OOB's and equipment details. Perhaps the game looks daunting from the outset, but really the traditional wargame look to it, hides away these unique real time macro-managed manoeuvres and higher levels of strategy. Theres a real sense of monitoring troop effectiveness/morale and holding units back to cycle into the front line to push through heavy defensive positions. Artillery plays a strong role too.

 

Anyway, I urge any serious RTS player who wants to see something different and to experience a conflict at a higher commanding level to give it a go. Starcraft 2 may never seem the same again. :)

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I think the traditional RTS is an evolutionary dead end, design- and sales-wise. I expect a steady stream of indie RTSes until the end of time, but I doubt the genre will ever again see major investment or success.

 

The core problem is that other subgenres take aspects of the RTS and improve upon them. Enjoy base-building? Play tower defense or city builders like Anno. Enjoy team play and micromanagement? Play DOTA or a DOTA-like. Enjoy high-level strategizing with lots of detail and complexity? Play a Paradox grand strategy game or Total War. Enjoy pure tactical decision-making? Play any of the growing, high-quality horde of turn-based games, whether electronic, card, or board versions.

 

What's left for the traditional RTS? All I can think of is the need for rapid attention-switching, which, to be honest, isn't all that fun. I think a lot of people agree with me on that point, and I think that's the fundamental reason why the genre is going to be on life support forever.

 

(By the way, I think traditional adventure games are in a very similar boat. After a brief flowering a few years ago led by Wadjet Eye, Telltale-style adventures, "walking simulators", and conversation-rich RPGs have undercut most of the reason for traditional adventures to exist.)

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What's left for the traditional RTS? All I can think of is the need for rapid attention-switching, which, to be honest, isn't all that fun. I think a lot of people agree with me on that point, and I think that's the fundamental reason why the genre is going to be on life support forever.

 

(By the way, I think traditional adventure games are in a very similar boat. After a brief flowering a few years ago led by Wadjet Eye, Telltale-style adventures, "walking simulators", and conversation-rich RPGs have undercut most of the reason for traditional adventures to exist.)

 

I'll tell you what's left. Almost infinite skill progression. RTS lets you progress both as a strategist and action player. And the other thing is AI. It has an edge due to reaction time. You can make seemingly competent AI by giving him quick reaction time and omnipresence instead of bonuses which many people see as cheating.

 

And the problem with adventure games, I think, was lack of gameplay. You play interactive story while solving insane puzzles. Why can't you have the same story while solving real puzzles like in puzzle games? Or just clicking quick time events like in modern Telltale (or Fahrenheit) adventures? Or doing anything except clicking on every object and applying newspaper to the hole under the door and straw into the key hole?

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Thanks for reminding me! AI War is great, I really need to play it again sometime.

 

 

I'm amazed no-one mentioned AI War. (Mr Hermes!!)

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I'll tell you what's left. Almost infinite skill progression. RTS lets you progress both as a strategist and action player. And the other thing is AI. It has an edge due to reaction time. You can make seemingly competent AI by giving him quick reaction time and omnipresence instead of bonuses which many people see as cheating.

 

It also does spectacles best... and as much as it got pooped on by everyone (including me so this isn't some blaming thing) here, the genre concept is also very intuitive because it is closest to digital implementation of 'here-is-your-box-of-army-dudes-have-fun'.

 

It's just that in the pacing and multiplayer focus lot of the genre's beauty gets lost... like almost all the complaints here (and mine as well) about RTS is almost exclusive to multiplayer.

 

How many strategy games have I played online competitively?  I can easily say, outside of Starcraft 2 (which I also stopped but at least I got few months out of it), none.

 

If CiV or EU4 were as geared toward MP focus as most RTS are, I doubt I would enjoy them anywhere nearly as much as I do.

 

Or am I the abnormality here?  Do you guys actually enjoy most of your strategy games as multiplayer games?

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Or am I the abnormality here?  Do you guys actually enjoy most of your strategy games as multiplayer games?

 

 

I don't think so. I don't even think its meaningful to talk about pvp and single player (or comp stomp) as being at all similar. As I've said before, I've been learning how to play Go (a bit like chess) properly, and it's probably broadly similar to trying to get good at an RTS, There's a huge learning curve and it takes a lot of hard work to reach a level at which your a competent player. Go is also played professionally in Korea (it may be related to why they were so quick to embrace e-sports), China and Japan. If i want to get better, I have to study, play games, review my own games to find my mistakes, study professional games, do exercises, etc. All that hard work which Rob is so dismissive of. But the pay off is huge, as you end up with a really engrossing game.

 

Single player strategy games are nothing like that (for me at least). I kid myself that I'm playing a deep strategy game when I play Civ or TW or whatever, but really, its what I do to relax and unwind. I just make some fairly shallow strategic decisions and push units around a map. There's no trying to out think the opponent, or reading ahead to check what works and what doesn't. This isn't a value judgement: I enjoy playing these games a lot. And I don't want them too simple (DoW2 was a big let down for me as the tactics felt really one dimensional), but I know that I'm not going to invest the time to get good at playing them in multiplayer as I don't really have time.

 

I guess this is a round about way of saying that I agree completely.

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Or am I the abnormality here? Do you guys actually enjoy most of your strategy games as multiplayer games?

I doubt it :) I certainly don't, and every attempt I've had at playing multiplayer strategy has failed somewhere along the line either through technical failure or because everyone just lost interest. I think most turn based strategy games just don't lend themselves to multiplayer particularly well. The open turns of a Civ game go on forever if they are more than a handful of you are playing.

RTS's basically suffer from what I would call 'the Starcraft 2 effect', which Rob touched on towards the end of the podcast. I don't think anyone makes more 'traditional' RTSs anymore because they don't feel that they can challenge SC2s dominance of because they just don't have the resources to put behind the game that Blizzard have. It's a similar situation with aRPGs and Diablo. I also think that level of dominance overly colours what the perception of what a RTS should be for the more casual gamer - all optimised production lists and clicks per minute ratios - and puts most of them off. And of course the rise of consoles which just don't lend themselves to RTS controls so nobody bothers making them for consoles. I once bought Command & Conquer for my PS1, man that was £55 wasted.

Anyway I digress. The best RTSs are the once that bypass that production tree / clicks per minute for the more casual single player - Company of Heroes and Sins of a Solar Empire spring to mind - or just limit the amount of stuff you have to look after - The Dawn of War series springs to mind. They are all RTSs but I'm willing to bet that the more casual gamer would dismiss them out of hand at the start just because they are an RTS with multiplayer aspects.

I'm not really sure what point it is I'm trying to make there. Maybe that RTSs have an image problem which SC2 exacerbates, maybe that some of them would be better off not marketing themselves as an RTS (although God knows how they would do that) definitely that the rise in consoles was probably the biggest death knoll to RTSs pure based on controllers and how they work best, and nobody could be bothered to work out a decent control system for a console based RTS?

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I think most things people want from RTS games are showing up in other genres and in much more accessible packages as well.  Lords Managements pretty much took much of the traditional crowd because they're easier to play and get into- while high level Lords Management play is quite deep, it's quite a bit less stressful than the multi-tasking nature of RTS games.

 

I mean, most RTS games made these days are specifically not trying to ape SC.  They may be gunning for an MP crowd, but they're really trying not to take cues from SC2 because they think that kind of RTS is dying.  Almost every RTS in existence, including the ones people state as 'the good ones' still has the stressful element of "if you're not doing anything you're losing".  Some of their attempts to not ape SC2 make them actually pretty awkward and introduce flaws(Wargame's demand for you to blind build 1500 points worth of things in a 100% blind opening is notable in how swingy it makes competitive play).  Those bases people complain about so much take the place, for example, of needing to prepare for one strategy or another, necessitating scouting and counter-scouting.  The SC2 formula, for all its faults has its reasons to be what it is, and I think people just assuming it to be out of custom are a bit misguided.

 

It's a lot like MMORPGs, though.  People stopped paying sub fees for them because people can get games that do exactly what they want for less- crafting sims, social sims, combat games, progression games, PvE games, PvP games.  Games that do one thing end up doing them a lot better than the kludges that were MMORPGs and I think RTS games are in that same boat- people get their tactical fixes from stuff like Ultimate General/Total War, their city builder fix from city builders, competitive MP from Lords Managements, etc.

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I just want to say fantastic podcast, I've been listening for a while and love what you guys discuss :)

 

I'm in the same boat: loved RTS around 2000 but I think it was only because me and my friends were so bad at them. I just don't enjoy the formula anymore and can't take the stress of it all.

 

Some of their attempts to not ape SC2 make them actually pretty awkward and introduce flaws(Wargame's demand for you to blind build 1500 points worth of things in a 100% blind opening is notable in how swingy it makes competitive play).

 

For me that is a big draw of Wargame though. Both teams bring in their forces and open differently and when the dust of the first encounter settles you have an interesting tactical puzzle to solve.

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For me that is a big draw of Wargame though. Both teams bring in their forces and open differently and when the dust of the first encounter settles you have an interesting tactical puzzle to solve.

 

A lot of the time though you end up pretty much winning or losing the battle in the first five minutes, though, put in an almost-impossible position and you just spend 20-30 minutes playing out the slow tick against you as you try to dig yourself out of a hole.  At least in a game like SC2 when you get 6pooled you pretty much know you're dead right away.

 

I mean sometimes you get a really cool tactical puzzle and sometimes you play your way out of the hole, but a lot of the time i'm just going through the motions to win the game as my opening just took the whole center or something and I sit at a huge advantage for the whole game.

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This episode is ancient, but are the podcast peeps still of the opinion that RTS players have gone to Lords Management? Or that RTSes have suffered because the rise of Lords ManagementS? 

RTS games are about micromanaging multiple units in a battle, but if you actually play a Lords Management, the characters that require you to play multiple units are among the least popular in the game (at least in Dota2). I'm thinking Visage, Chen, Lone Druid, Broodmother, Naga Siren, Arc Warden, Brew Master, they're all bottom 10 in most played.  To me the Lords Management is more like an Action RPG, like Diablo, than an RTS. 

EDIT - Why was M-O-B-A  replaced with Lords Management? Who uses that title aside from the podcast on this site? What an uneccessary mouthful of words. 

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RTS games are also about the development of your assets, map control, cooperation, and tactics. And that's what Lords Management players get. Many players play RTS without much multitasking, just moving around a single army, and many do not like to concern themselves with expanding. Those things in RTS are inherently and intentionally broken as you're usually hampered by UI that prevents you from doing it effectively. In other words, you can sort of have a perfect play in turn-based strategy or real-time with pause something, but in RTS it's unavoidable to have compromises. You will always have situations where UI and your focus do not allow to play perfectly even if you have a total understanding of the situation and what should be done.

 

Lords Managements expand on things that feel right in RTS and cuts the things that are inherently imperfect.

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11 hours ago, Akalabeth said:

EDIT - Why was M-O-B-A  replaced with Lords Management? Who uses that title aside from the podcast on this site? What an uneccessary mouthful of words. 

 

Well, surely the primary thing you do in this type of game is the Management of Lords, and can there be any more worthy a task than that?

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18 hours ago, Akalabeth said:

This episode is ancient, but are the podcast peeps still of the opinion that RTS players have gone to Lords Management? Or that RTSes have suffered because the rise of Lords ManagementS? 

RTS games are about micromanaging multiple units in a battle, but if you actually play a Lords Management, the characters that require you to play multiple units are among the least popular in the game (at least in Dota2). I'm thinking Visage, Chen, Lone Druid, Broodmother, Naga Siren, Arc Warden, Brew Master, they're all bottom 10 in most played.  To me the Lords Management is more like an Action RPG, like Diablo, than an RTS. 

EDIT - Why was M-O-B-A  replaced with Lords Management? Who uses that title aside from the podcast on this site? What an uneccessary mouthful of words. 

 

This is an Idle Thumbs thing, back in the day on their podcast they had many animated discussions about the genre. They didn't like the acronym M O B A, so they set up the forum autocorrect settings to replace it with "lords management". 

 

The same with pine apple.  I asked about that one, and they can't remember why ********* is also edited out.

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I honestly don’t know the point of havivg a forum if you can’t make some funny autocorrects.

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